Fairgrounds plan could expand horse use, protect longtime users

The improvements to the equine facilities at the Mesa County Fairgrounds that were begun two years ago this fall have proved a success.

Horse-related competitions and other events were up 33 percent this year, compared to two years ago.

Direct revenue to the county from use of the equine area increased 58 percent in the same 2010-2012 comparison, while estimated impact to the local economy rose 37 percent.

That’s not a bad return on Mesa County’s investment of roughly $1 million in a new horse barn, an expanded covered arena and ancillary facilities.

Fairgrounds officials and the Mesa County commissioners are looking to build on that success with the possibility of additional new horse facilitities in coming years. A contract to develop a master plan for the fairgrounds was approved by the commissioners last week, and a series of focus group and public meetings related to that plan are expected to be held later this month and in November.

But with success come additional problems. At the Mesa County Fairgrounds right now, one such problem is increased demand for using the equine facilities. This year, every weekend from mid-March through mid-October was booked, (there was one cancellation) and more groups want to use it.

Fairgrounds Manager Jo Carole Haxel made it clear that the fairgrounds administrators and the county commissioners want to protect the historic users of the equine facilities to ensure they continue to have access to the horse facilities at the fairgrounds, even if their shows don’t generate as much revenue as some of the newer, larger horse events. The long-time users have been a staple of the fairgrounds, some of them for decades, and helped sustain it long before recent improvements were made.

The larger equine events attract more competitors from outside the county, people who pay stall fees to keep their horses in the county barn or outside stalls and some RV fees for hooking up their campers in the county’s small RV lot. Others utilize local motels.

A possible solution for meeting the increasing demands was suggested in the business plan recently completed for the fairgrounds: Build a covered arena just west of the existing covered horse arena, identical in size to the existing one but perhaps with more and better bleachers. Also, construct at least one more horse barn similar to the one built in 2010-2011, but with more flexibility in the alignment of stalls. Finally, add to the availability of trailer and RV parking for the equine facility.

None of this would be done with horse racing in mind, Haxel said. In fact, if legislation is passed that leads eventually to horse racing at the Mesa County Fairgrounds, the master plan being developed now would basically have to be scrapped and a new one developed.

The concepts for the horse facilities in the business plan will be a large part of what is considered in the fairgrounds master plan the remainder of this year. But they aren’t the big-ticket item.

That would be the large event center suggested to be built approximately where the current rodeo arena and grandstands are located. The proposed 5,000-seat event center would be capable of hosting livestock events, especially horse shows, as well as concerts and perhaps other sporting events.

But everyone involved realizes that will be a costly endeavor, years down the road, that would require some sort of partnership with private groups or other public entities.

Much more feasible in the immediate future is the addition of a second covered arena, one or more barns and related facilites.

If a master plan is approved and the county commissioners authorize funding for the projects, Haxel believes those are projects that might be able to proceed in the next three or four years. But they probably won’t be the first improvements undertaken at the fairgrounds if the master plan is approved. That honor is likely to go to the BMX track on the west side of the fairgrounds, Haxel said.

That track is already the No. 7 BMX track in the country in terms of competitive events, she said. But it can’t host top national BMX events because it doesn’t have appropriate spectator areas, restrooms and related facilities.

Building a larger track with necessary facilites in an area north of the current location might be done through a partenership between the BMX community and the county, she said. It would be less expensive than other suggested projects and could move forward realtively quickly.

Still, the expansion of the equine facilities could be a possibility in the not-too-distant future. And, if that is accomplished, it would build on the success of the last improvements to attract more and larger horse events while protecting the historic horse users of the fairgrounds.

Those interested in what may occur at the fairgrounds should make a point of attending one of the upcoming meetings.


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